In 1987, University of Illinois freshman Mike Hayes wrote to Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene with a modest proposal: that each of Greene’s readers contribute a penny to finance his education.
“Just one penny,” he told Greene. “A penny doesn’t mean anything to anyone. If everyone who is reading your column looks around the room right now, there will be a penny under the couch cushion, or on the corner of the desk, or on the floor. That’s all I’m asking. A penny from each of your readers.”
Greene published the appeal in 200 newspapers via his syndicated column — and Hayes received 77,000 letters and enough pennies to break his bank’s coin-counting machine three times. He easily reached his goal of $28,000, enough for four years of tuition, room and board, and books.
He graduated with a degree in food science. Asked why the scheme worked, he said, “I didn’t ask for a lot of money. I just asked for money from a lot of people.”